“I would say our clinic in Ramona is one of the best kept secrets in Ramona,” Dr. Kevin Ellis told a group of people gathered last Tuesday to learn about North County Health Services (NCHS) and to meet the clinicians.
The Ramona Health Center, at 217 Earlham Road, is one of 11 clinics run by NCHS, a private nonprofit health care organization that caters to the underinsured and the uninsured. Ellis, who serves as the chief medical officer for NCHS, described the organization as a safety net, which he said San Diego County lacks.
“We are basically the safety net for our area,” Ellis said.
With the sluggish economy and high unemployment rate, Dr. Aaron Lehman noted, “Anyone can need that safety net at any time.”
The informational meeting was held Feb. 2 at the First Business Bank.
Founded in 1973, NCHS is accredited by The Joint Commission and states its mission is “to improve the health status of our diverse communities by providing quality health care that is comprehensive, affordable and culturally sensitive.”
NCHS services are not free, but medical and dental care fees are based on a sliding scale according to a family’s size and income. About half of the patients are on publicly funded Medi-Cal.
Liz Chavez is the manager of the Ramona Health Center, which has been at its location for 35 years. Chavez said the clinic provides comprehensive medical and dental care to patients ranging from newborns to senior citizens.
“The staff at the clinic is very dedicated,” she said.
Noting that the Ramona clinic has a lot of uninsured patients, Chavez said 50 percent of them fall into the 0-19 age bracket.
Irma Cota, the chief executive officer of NCHS, said she realized the health center has been in the community for a long time but many people are not familiar with the organization.
“We decided we needed a more solid approach for marketing and public relations,” she said. “We definitely will be much more engaged.”
Cota said they want to dispel the myth that because they are a community clinic they do not provide quality care. The medical personnel are board certified and choose to work at the clinic, providing care for all age groups, said Cota.
The staff at the Ramona clinic include Doctors Aaron Lehman, Lori Wan and Doris Yung; Dentist Alfonso Hinojoza, and Head Nurse Carole Sansregret.
Lehman said he first came to the clinic in 2001 when he was just finishing medical school and worked half a day a week at the clinic. He has been at the clinic full-time since 2005.
With Palomar Pomerado Health planning to build a new medical center in Ramona, on Main Street between 13th and 14th Streets, the Ramona Health Center was hoping to relocate to the new facility once it is built. Cota said they would like to partner with PPH and are still in discussion; however, at this point they do not have the resources to make the move. They applied for a federal grant, but it was awarded to another clinic.
Cota said they own the property where the current Ramona clinic is located and are squeezed between the economy and the real estate market.
With a reported annual budget of $38.5 million, NCHS funding comes from a variety of sources including grants, private and government insurance, patient fees and private and corporate donations.
Dana Withall, NCHS fund development director, said they will be kicking off their annual campaign and want people to understand how their donations can help the NCHS mission. Anyone interested in more information about the 2010 NCHS campaign may contact Withall at 760-736-6710.